Wild Life in the Land of the Giants - novelonlinefree.info
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The Fireland warrior full grown is not a giant, but sometimes very powerful, and far more hardy than could be believed possible, going almost stark naked even in winter--when at work, at all events; that is, when hunting, fishing, rowing, or running.
This is a digression, but it is necessary to show the kind of enemy we had so soon to meet in battle. I must digress further to the extent of a few words, and tell you that Jill was an excellent swordsman. We had a good tutor in our father, and my brother and I were always at sword exercise when at home and not doing either work or mischief. Many a hard knock we had given each other, but I rejoice to add we never lost our tempers.
"You feel sure we'll have a go at these niggers to-night, Mr Ritchie, if I may make so bold?"
This was a question put to our captain shortly after the moon had risen.
"As sure as that I'm looking at the moon," said Ritchie.
"And what think you will be the upshot?"
"It'll be a _down_-shot to begin with," replied Ritchie, by way of making a grim joke.
"But, Lawlor lad, I'm half afraid the Fuegians will have the upper hand, drat 'em!"
"And we'll all be scuppered?"
"We're all in the hands of Providence," said Ritchie.
"'Cause I've a sweetheart," said Lawlor.
"And I've a mother," said another man.
"And I," said another, "have a wife and the prettiest baby ever opened blue eyes."
"I have neither kith nor kin," said Wrexham, a tall young giant of a fellow. "I'm going to lay about me a bit by and by; and look here, lads, I wouldn't mind dying for the lot of you."
"Don't talk thus," said Ritchie. "Let each of us now say a bit of a prayer to himself."
There was silence for the space of five minutes; then we all stood up, and there and then, as if by one common impulse, we shook hands all round. We felt better now. We even wished the foe would come, but we knew also that when they did commence the attack, it would be in silence and with suddenness.
A whole hour went by. No one spoke much. We just hung about the cave mouth, occasionally giving a look to see our arms were in perfect order and array. Now and then Jill went into the cave and talked with the dogs as if they were human beings. I think he did so simply to pass the time.
I was wondering in what particular way the battle would commence, and what would be the peculiar incidents connected with it, when Ritchie suddenly clutched my arm and gazed seawards. A bright light was visible far out in the offing. A bright white light. Could it be that assistance was at hand?
Presently all was dark on the sea again, except for the quivering lines of moonlight on the waters. But next minute a bright crimson glare was thrown over the water. They were burning a red light. It was a signal undoubtedly.
"Can we make them hear, I wonder?" said Ritchie. "I think we can. The night is still, and the wind is off the shore."
We waited till the red light had quite burned out, then fired a volley, that went reverberating away up among the hills and rocks like thunder, and must have been heard far and near.
The savages must have seen that signal too, for now came a shower of arrows, which we fain would have replied to had we seen an object to fire at. We took shelter within the inner rampart, well knowing they would soon appear in the outer.
We were not disappointed. Heads and spears were seen above our first line of defence.
The volley we gave them must have been effective. There was silence among the foe no longer, but the wildest and most unearthly yells.
Again and again did they try to storm our outer defence. Again and again were they hurled down and back.
Our little fort seemed impregnable. Hope was in our hearts now. We had only to hold our position, and assistance would soon be with us.
The attack was renewed again and again, but with the same results. I began almost to feel sorry for the carnage our guns and revolvers must undoubtedly have been creating. But it was no fault of ours. We were but acting on the defensive.
Then there came a lull in the storm, and we found time to bind up a wound in Lawlor's left wrist. It had been caused by an arrow, and was bleeding profusely. The rest of us were as yet unscathed.
"I don't like this silence," said Ritchie. "They're up to some devilment, or my name isn't Ted. Let us get over and see."
We, Ritchie and I, scaled our first defence and mounted the second, only to see "Birnam wood" advancing, so to speak.
"All hands here, quick?" cried Ritchie.
In a few minutes, nay moments, we were firing at the advancing wood. It was too late. The pile was made and speedily lighted, and the smoke and sparks went rolling over us.
This was their plan, then. We were to be burned out or smoked out, like rats from a hole.
In this battle betwixt civilisation and savagery, the former had hitherto got the advantage. Was all this to be changed? It would seem so.
The natives retreated now. They had but to wait till our position became untenable, and slay us as we sought safety in flight. Flight?
Yes, but whither?
The fire began to burn fiercely. In a few moments more the ramparts had caught, and now it was time for action.
We determined to hold our fort as long as possible, then make our last-- our final sortie. We tore down the lee side of the inner bulwark, and crouched on the ground close to the rock; and it is well we did, for just then a whole shower of arrows flew over our heads.
"That is good, men," cried Ritchie. "The arrows come from the direction of the creek. Stand by to rush out when I give the order."
I missed Jill from my side. The kindly boy, even in the midst of the fire and fighting, had not forgotten the dogs, and had gone to let them loose.
Now in a fight or battle of any kind it is very little any single individual can tell of it. We only knew in the present instance that the order was given to "Charge," and out we rushed from our fiery den.
Ritchie and Wrexham led, keeping the smoke as a cover as long as they could. Jill and I, shoulder to shoulder, followed. I know little else; I only thought of Jill.
Hitherto, I must own, I had considered that in many ways I was my brother's superior, and more than once, I fear, I treated him as a child. After his bravery this night, and his coolness in this terrible _melee_, I always looked upon him as a man, and my equal--except, of course, in age.
The savages would have done well had they scattered and poured upon us their clouds of arrows. For some reason or another they did not, but waited our charge by the creek side, all in a mass, and with spears and yells. Savages as a rule put no end of value on their yelling and whooping qualities, and at times, it must be admitted, these war cries are very confusing and startling. We fired one rifle volley into their midst; one or two volleys from the revolver. Then we met and mixed. I cannot tell now, nor could I ever tell, their numbers. They seemed like a huge dark cloud.
"Back to back, Jill!" I cried.
"Hurrah!" shouted my brother. "Back to back, Jack, in good old Cornish fashion! Hurrah!"
And back to back we fought in the midst of those fiends, who went down wherever we charged. Back to back, and wielding with terrible effect two long supple Arab swords we had bought at the Cape.
Back to back, as brothers should in an engagement like this. But for how long I know not. A mist came over my eyes, a strange white smoke-like mist. Then I remembered no more.
But I was lying there by the creek side when I came to, with Jill bending over me. Lying in the moonlight, and not far off, talking to Ritchie, was Peter himself, who came towards us as soon as he heard Jill saying, "Are you better now, brother?"
So we were saved. I had merely been stunned with a blow from a stone.
I had fallen about the very time Peter with his boat's crew had leapt on shore, and the savages began to fly, and Jill had caught me up in his arms and staggered with me to meet them.